By Debbie James

Farmers in Wales could lose subsidy payments if they don’t allow mobile phone masts to be sited on their land.

The action is recommended by the Welsh Assembly’s economy, infrastructure and skills committee in its ‘Digital Infrastructure in Wales’ report.

The committee wants the government to be proactive in accelerating the provision of broadband and mobile phone signals in areas of Wales where there is no coverage.

Although broadband is available to 96 per cent of premises in Wales, provision to the remaining 4 per cent is proving difficult.

The report suggests that mobile phone coverage in Wales is well behind other parts of the UK; less than half of premises have access to a 4G signal.

A high proportion of hills and valleys block signals in some areas, creating the need for more mobile phone sites.

The committee is urging the government to use new ways to ensure the mast network is improved.

“The Welsh Government should consider ensuring future public subsidies to landowners such as farmers are conditional on them allowing mobile phone masts on their land,’’ the committee said in a statement.

Other recommendations include:

•Establishing a repayable grant or equity scheme to allow small operators to fill broadband gaps

•Engaging the 4% of premises without broadband connectivity in the process of finding ways forward

•Reform of the planning regime to allow the installation of telecoms masts that cover a wider geographical range

Welsh Conservative AM and committee chairman Russell George insisted connectivity was no longer a ‘nice-to-have’.

“For many people and businesses we spoke to during our inquiry, it’s now considered an essential service, like electricity,’’ he said.

“While the Welsh Government’s Superfast Cymru broadband scheme, delivered with BT, has connected high numbers of people, there remain pockets it has not be able to reach, and this is echoed with mobile phone coverage.’’